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Grief During the Holidays

Holiday grief

It may seem like grief is an odd choice to write about during the week of Christmas, but that is where this blog is headed today. Grief is a funny thing: it is not linear, it is never over, and it should not be ignored.

My grandmother passed away a few years ago. She was 92 years old and had been battling cancer. Her passing was not unexpected but happened rather suddenly. I have found myself thinking of her more this holiday season than last year. While I have been remembering the fond memories of life with her, my heart has still felt the pangs of sadness and grief. I am privileged to be near family this year (unlike in 2020) and I’m sure we will spend more time reflecting together as the days continue. In some families, grief is not a welcome guest. Sadness, tears, and pain are hidden. While perusing social media, I stumbled upon a statement by Sarah Nannen which rings especially true for me this year:

“We don’t need to protect ourselves or each other from grief at the holidays. In fact, the more we embrace grief as an honored holiday guest, the more healthy, happy, and whole our holidays will be.”

Grief is not linear, meaning it will ebb and flow over time and does not happen in a particular step-by-step order. Grief is also not something you “get over” but rather “get through.” When a loss first happens, grief may feel like a 50 lb. weight on your chest. A few months later it may have lessened to a heavy backpack. Then two years later it may be like a cell phone – not too heavy but always present.

Grief is not exclusive to death. Loss comes in many forms. I cannot help but pause here to think about the grief experienced by children experiencing foster care, and their families. How often are sadness and tears masked in the joy of holiday celebrations, in the generosity of those who have given gifts placed under the tree?

How does it feel to know someone in your life has experienced a recent loss, but you don’t recognize it or offer condolences? It is an awkward silence or perhaps the elephant in the room that you don’t want to talk about. How much more enjoyable would your time together be if the grief was recognized and allowed space to exist? The loss or grief does not have to be main topic of discussion, but giving the loss the honor and respect it deserves somehow makes may for a deeper connection and intimacy.

Sharing a few stories about my grandmother has brought a few tears this season, but overall has brought more joy to my life. I am grateful for those who have listened and allowed me to acknowledge my loss. The space of acknowledgement has brought a greater depth to those relationships. It is easy to think we are only allowed to be happy and jolly during the holidays. But happy and jolly doesn’t mean we push away or ignore grief. Open your heart to acknowledging “grief as an honored holiday guest.”

Wishing you a healthy, happy, and whole holiday season.